Culture and Bible translation

Culture and Bible translation.

Jim Wilder brought an interesting example in his webinar of how our culture can even influence a Bible translation. He discovered this when speaking to churches in Poland. His interpreter was very surprised when Jim read Hebrews 12:2 from his English Bible:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)

The Holy Bible : New International Version, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).

The Greek word αντι can be translated in two ways:

a) for, because (instead of)
b) because of

In the case of in Hebrews 12:2 this results in the following difference. It can be translated either as:

1) Jesus … who instead of the joy set before him endured the cross, or as
2) Jesus … who because of the joy set before him endured the cross

Most English translations chose the second option.

The New Living Translation also chose the second option but provided the first option as alternative reading in a footnote.

Because of the joy* awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

* Or Instead of the joy.

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible : New Living Translation.,  (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004).

The Polish Bible translations chose option one. This is understandable when we consider the history and cultural context:

The culture in Poland is rather low joy and the church is considered to be about suffering, not about joy. Therefore joy did not belong in the church and is even perceived as offensive. The Bible translators therefore chose the first option because of their cultural background and Jim’s interpreter was quite surprised when Jim quoted this verse from his English Bible.

Why Western Christianity Failed 3

Why Western Christianity Failed 3

In September/October Deeper Walk International brought an interesting series of webinars on the topic of “Why Western Christianity Failed.” The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder from Shepherd’s House in California.

  • The first part was about a 300 year old philosophy that heavily influenced Western Theology (which I summarized here).
  • The second part looked at how medieval psychology influences us until today (which I summarized here).
  • And the third part explained how we ended up with a false dichotomy because of these two influences.

In this post I will give a summary of part three:

The theme of part three is the false dichotomy in Western Christianity that resulted from the Voluntarist philosophy (part 1) and the medieval psychology (part 2). Christianity became a matter of giving people the right information so they can make the right choice, but this did not help to change people’s character.

As a result Western Christianity paid a lot of attention to belief errors, for example, in cults (e.g. Jim Jones) or in other theologies (liberation theology) but did very little about character failures, for example, when church leaders run off with somebody else’s wife, addictions, divorce among Christians, pedophile priests, pornography and many other character failures among Christians.

It is not a matter of picking one or the other. Christianity needs to change both sides.

One result of this false dichotomy is legalism.

It easily develops when you think that ideas and choices are the key to being a ‘good’ Christian.

What is needed to change this?

We need to understand how our brain works. The control center of our life is situated in the right hemispheres of the brain – not the left thinking side of the brain! It is this right side that takes over when we are under stress or in trouble. Therefore it is the right side that needs to become Christian to influence our whole life, including our character.

How is the control center trained?

The right brain can learn to stay true to ourselves and our God-given identity under pressure:

  • through relationships with others who can model for us how to handle pressure
  • visual examples
  • emotional story and song, similar to the minstrels in the past or hymns that use a lot of imagery
  • but NOT through propositional truth or didactic teaching!

Our character can be changed

  • when other people are glad to be with us (a joy that is communicated non verbally between our right brains by just smiling at each other)
  • when they are glad to be with us even in difficult situations
  • when we experience Jesus’ presence in these situations
  • when we learn to synchronize with God while we are under pressure
  • and experience his joy of being with us even when we fail.

All of this has to happen in the situation itself, when we are under pressure, when we experience suffering or temptation, not when we are sitting in church and are not tempted.

The left hemisphere can help in this process,

  • find the resources needed for training the right brain
  • make strategies for change and growth
  • learn truth and use it as a standard of reference, but …

Memorizing Bible verses alone does not help to do the right things, but when we live in relationship with the person that is behind them.

We are often trying to use the left hemisphere to compensate for the lack of emotional skills but that does not help.

For example:

  • addictions are a classic example of doing this, try to rationalize things
  • borderline personality disorders, try to live by rules because they lack the relational skills
  • anxiety, try to gather more information but information cannot compensate for relationships
  • religions obsession or legalism, try to explain everything, and achieve ultimate spirituality
  • work and control compulsions, try to set up rules to control people and things around them.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, a lot of these can be found in Western Christianity.

Many people who think their way through relationships are very legalistic, rely heavily on predicting the behaviors of others, box people in, expect them to behave according to roles (“you are … you should do …”), enforce compliance to their expectations, and look for explanations when things don’t go according to expectations.

This leads to “left-sided sins problems”

They are typical among those who try to live their faith from the left-brain hemisphere:

  • condemnation
  • judgmentalism (by comparisons)
  • sense of entitlement
  • guided by own understanding and explanations (instead of Jesus’)
  • depend on roles (instead of God-given identities)
  • need to punish and justify punishment
  • sarx (‘flesh’) based living, living according to my own understanding of how God wants me to live, instead of in dependence on Him!

This is in contrast to what Prov 3:5-6 tells us to do:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track. (The Message)

Why Western Christianity Failed 2

Why Western Christianity Failed 2

In September and October 2009 Deeper Walk International brought an interesting series of webinars on the topic of “Why Western Christianity Failed.” The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder from Shepherd’s House in California.

  • The first part was about a 300 year old philosophy that heavily influenced Western Theology (which I summarized here).
  • The second part looked at how medieval psychology influences us until today (see summary below).
  • And the third part explained how we ended up with a false dichotomy because of these two influences.

In this post I will give a summary of part two:

Many people don’t realize that our Western theology has been influenced by all kinds of things besides the Bible.

Among other things are:

  • rationalism – is about thinking the right things
  • voluntarism – is about making the right choices
  • Pietism – had the tendency to neglect the body
  • Northern European culture – influences people to live in survival mode, value stoic resolve, ignore pain and emotions

>> All these affect our theology.
>> All these even affect how we do Bible translation.
>> They influence what we think is important.

One major influence is the medieval psychology that divides human beings into two main parts:

Physical conditions, the body, emotions and anything related were considered of doubtful use for spiritual things. In contrast, the intellect and the will were seen as separate from the body. Today we know that intellect and will are tied up in the same body, and interact strongly with each other. They cannot be separated from each other as medieval psychology did.

Despite newer insights into how God created us (body and will interconnected), theology still uses these categories until today.

Our bodies are seen as something fallen and unable to please God, while the spirit and will were seen as more important because they can be affected by God, as something that God can transform. The will is fallen but can be empowered by God’s grace to make the right choices. The body and emotions are only causing trouble (implicit – they are beyond God’s power to transform). Therefore the body was left out of any teaching and considered unimportant. The soul was sometimes included with the body, and seen as causing trouble. The only hope was that God would transform the spirit enough to dominate body and soul. The solution to this problem is to have more “truth” (teaching, knowledge) to help the spirit dominate the body.

The result is a false dichotomy that influences our theology until today.

This made perfect sense in medieval psychology but not today!

It is in contradiction to what we know today about the brain:

Our brain is primarily relational. Any strategy that bypasses the dominant emotional and relational center of the brain, and emphasizes thinking and will, is not “Good News” at all. As a result we keep trying to think the right things, but we are still acting and reacting the wrong way.

Antonio R. Damasio in his book “Descartes’ error” pointed out that what makes the human mind run are our emotions not reason. For example, trauma recovery requires body awareness. The priority of our brain is to first ask what our body feels before asking what we think about something.

This has to do with our vagus nerve, which tells the brain what we feel like and influences our relationships and what we like. This vagus nerve does not sound very spiritual but influences everything we consider spiritual. It has two parts:
dorsal vagal – takes care of your own body
ventral vagal – regulates interpersonal relationships

Maybe it is more important to make our vagus nerve “Christian” more than our thinking!

The Old Testament refers to our “inward parts” (e.g. Jer 4:19, Lam 2:11) but they are often translated with ‘mind’ in Greek. In other places the Hebrew text speaks about the “bowels.” The translation of these verses often shows a lot of bias. Since the body is not important, bowels are sometimes translated as heart and sometimes as bowels and nobody cares if these are really referring to the same thing.

Conclusions from Voluntarist Philosophy

>> Western Christianity became about ideas and choice
>> Solution – all important life problems are corrected by truth and choice
>> This statement should feel true to you because your culture says it’s true
>> The Bible translations were made to fit that assumption due to language and culture.

Conclusions from Medieval Psychology

>> Choice is in the intellect
>> Will is in the reason
>> Intellect and reason are in the mind /spirit
>> Bible translation is made to fit those assumptions
>> The mind and spirit are changed by choices and knowledge
>> The body and emotions are not important for the spiritual life as will and choice.

Corrections to Medieval Psychology

>> What controls the brain, will, body and emotions is relationship not information.

Who you love or who you fear, will determine what you’ll choose, how your body responds to it and how you feel about it. That relationship is actually experienced in your brain, not your emotions, not your body, not your will.

>> We have more than one will and there can be conflict.
>> Emotions and related body responses are in executive control of the brain
>> Relationships based on love produce very different interpretations of the information in the intellect than the same information with fear.

For example, “your dad is coming” can produce two different reactions, depending whether your relationship is love or fear based. The same happens with biblical information – “God is watching you” can cause two different reactions.

Living with the Lord means having our “bowels” transformed.

We need a Christianity that transforms both sides of our character, our body not just our mind. We need to overcome this false dichotomy (more about it in part 3).

Why Western Christianity Failed 1

Why Western Christianity Failed 1

In September/October Deeper Walk International brought an interesting series of webinars on the topic of “Why Western Christianity Failed.” The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder from Shepherd’s House in California.

  • The first part was about a 300 year old philosophy that heavily influenced Western Theology.
  • The second part looked at how medieval psychology influences us until today.
  • And the third part explained how we ended up with a false dichotomy because of these two influences.

In this post I will give a short summary of part one:

The Voluntarist philosophy goes back to people like Réne Descartes. His famous “I think therefore I am” led to the idea that thinking is what makes us humans. Other rationalists and empiricists like John Locke, Gerorge Berkely, David Hume and Bertrand Russell followed. This emphasis on our left brain activity led others to the assumption that “it must be that the first beginning of faith lies in the will” (William Ames). As a result will and reason became the cornerstones of US theology. Conversion became a matter of the will and is based on right information and right choice.

Experience shows that this does not work. A lot of people have all the right information but make the wrong choices. More information (i.e. more training, more Bible study) is not the solution for everything. Why? Because this is not how our brain works.  It is not the left brain hemisphere (which stores verbal knowledge) that takes care of our decisions. Actually, it is the first part of the brain, that won’t work properly when we are under pressure, or just sleepy. It is highly unreliable and can’t change our character. It is the right part of our brain (the relational, emotional center which stores experiential knowledge) that makes a pre-selection before we even start thinking about a decision.

Wilder points out that

We (the Americans) are the most well informed and best educated people in the history of our planet. We should be the best model of healthy community, character, maturity, and relational integrity in church and world history.

I am sure the same could be said about other countries with a high percentage of Christians.

Why do our choices and emotions not line up?

Could it be that we have developed a system that is focused on building our intellectual capacity – while our emotional, relational and character development have atrophied?

Thinking and willpower are not enough to transform our character.

The real control center of our life, including our cravings, is located in the right hemisphere of the brain. Any strategy that tries to solve our problems by bypassing the right brain hemisphere won’t work.  As a result there are many people who have all the right information and are still a failure in character.

Wilder mentioned another very telling example:

Today the WWII veterans are getting older and many of them develop dementia. As a result of their failing will power, a lot of old fears, other negative emotions, bad temper and character defects come up. Their will power did not change them, but just held these negative things at bay.

This shows me that our will power can keep our negative emotions under control, at least sometimes, but it can’t change our character.
The same happens to us when we come under pressure in everyday life – our true self comes out and we are embarrassed about our behavior under stressful circumstances. This also happens to recovering addicts if they use cognitive approaches to overcome their cravings – this works fine as long as life runs smooth but as soon as the pressure is on (e.g. things don’t work out) this left brain oriented approach no longer works. Their (and our) good intentions go down the drain.

What we need is a character transformation that is right brain oriented.

All the right information in the world, our intellect and the will are not capable of transforming us. If we want to see real transformation and the fruits of the spirit, for example, control our tongue or our cravings, we need to give the right brain what it needs to change – joy strength, relationships and belonging.

N.B. The Webinars are no longer available for download.

Burnout Webinar

Yesterday’s webinar from Deeper Walk International was about Burnout. Chris Coursey shared his story, how he became a believer, got into ministry and got married, and what factors had contributed to his burnout. Among other things, he had all the theological knowledge but not enough relational experience of God. He also lacked the necessary maturity level for ministry and certain brain skills to deal with stress.

Next week he will share more in detail about these brain skills, which are taught at THRIVE and can help prevent burnout.

If you are interested in listening to yesterday’s webinar, go to Deeper Walk International Resources Center – Webinars and scroll down to
Webinars by Chris & Jen Coursey

Why I burned out in ministry: Chris and Jen Coursey $3.00
The webinars are availabel for $3.00 each. Once you have paid, you will receive a link to download or listen online to it.

If you want to participate in next week’s webinar, go to Deeper Walk International Webinars and scroll down to register where it says:

How THRIVE Skills Prevent Burnout: Chris and Jen Coursey
3:00 pm Eastern time on November 9

Or you can also click on the link above to go straight to the registration page. Your will receive an e-mail with a personalized login link. The participation in webinars is free.